First of all, I would like to apologize, since I am going to write about Iran from an “academic-technical” point of view. That means that I’ll explain my point of view, which derivates from the existent literature about the country and what I have studied about it. I have to do it this way, because I’ve never been there and all the friends that I got there, are unknown to me yet.
Which part of the World are we going to?
Our trip is going to lead us to the Middle-East, between Iraq and Pakistan, where once the Achaemenid Empire (First Persian Empire) shined.
In 1,648,195 sq km the terrain is rugged, and it is mountainous rimmed. It is also high and has a central basin with deserts, mountains, and small, discontinuous plains along both coasts. Here you can find petroleum (being the 4th biggest production of oil in the World), natural gas (5th biggest production in the World), coal, chromium, copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, zinc and sulfur. The climate is mostly arid or semiarid and subtropical along the Caspian coast.
Fact; Iranian territory is a strategic location on the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, which are vital maritime pathways for crude oil transport.
The territory is divided into 31 provinces. The major cities are Tehran (capital); Mashhad; Esfahan; Karaj and Tabriz.
Most of the 78,868,711 Iranian people speak Persian and practice Muslim (Shia) Religion. But that is just the majority; they also speak Azeri Turkic and Turkic dialects, Kurdish, Gilaki and Mazandarani, Luri, Balochi, Arabic and other languages and practice Muslim Sunni tradition, and other religions such as Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Baha’i. There are many Afghan and Iraqi refugees living in Iran.
It is not an ethnically unitary country; there are several ethnic groups, such as Persian, Azeri, Kurd, Lur or Arab, among others. They say “hello” to each other by kissing three times and the equivalent to what is known as John Q. in the U.S. or Average Joe-Jane in the UK, that is, a generic name for the “common man/woman” is Folani (فُلانی), Felani (فلانی), Yaroo (يارو) in Iran.
About their Government; they have a Theocratic Republic, leaded by Supreme Leader Ali Hoseini-Khamenei, who’s been the chief of state since 4th June 1989. The head of government is, at his turn, President Mahmud Ahmadineyad, since 3rd August 2005; and the First Vice President is Mohammad Reza Rahimi, since 13th September 2009. They have a state-run broadcast media with no private, independent broadcasters.
Their Legal System consists in a religious legal system based on Sharia Law. The suffrage is universal, at 18 years old. The Military service is compulsory (19 years of age) and women are exempt from it.
What’s going on at the neighbourhood?
Iran’s regional role is undoubtedly significant in the Middle-East. That means its influence does not just relate to the Iranian nuclear dispute, but to other crises of the region; the instability of Iraq, the Israel-Hizbullah conflict and the deteriorating situation in the West Bank and Gaza.
Among other affairs, Iran protests Afghanistan’s limiting flow of dammed Helmand River tributaries during drought, Afghan and Iranian commissioners have discussed boundary monument densification and resurvey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia ratified Caspian seabed delimitation treaties based on equidistance, while Iran continues to insist on a one-fifth slice of the lake, Iraq’s lack of a maritime boundary with Iran prompts jurisdiction disputes beyond the mouth of the Shatt al Arab in the Persian Gulf and Iran and U.A.E. dispute Tunb Islands and Abu Musa Island, which are occupied by Iran.
Iran has a long-practiced ability to influence its neighborhood. It is, however, a peaceful country which has not invaded another country in 300 years. The resolution of the many crises afflicting Iran’s region will partly require an improvement in Iran’s relations with the West through careful and patient diplomacy on both sides.
What about a bit further?
Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran’s international relations have been marked by instability, which has lead to a significant decline in Iran’s international standing, such as the crisis of the hostages in Tehran, the war with Iraq during the 80’s, the current nuclear predicament and linked with that last one and most importantly, the conflict with the U.S.
Internally, the country has a singular political culture, due to many factors; among others; the theocratic state model, its eastward orientation, its lack of trust in international community and the Islamic Republic’s abandonment of Iran’s pre-revolutionary economic role in the Middle-East towards, a new political-military position with a focus upon the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This lead to a sustained internal struggle over foreign policy and gave great importance to conspiracy theories.
It’s important to point out that American diplomatic relations with Iran had lasted just 25 years. The conflict between Iran and the U.S. embodies important contemporary global political issues, such as the Middle-East peace process, human rights, nuclear non-proliferation, terrorism, democratization and political reform- regime change.
In this “spiral conflict”, both parties escalate each other’s extreme positions to new heights, based on a mixture of fact and fiction, misperceptions and misunderstandings, distrust and demonization. Discussions then turn ideological, each side becoming increasingly obsessed with the other, leading to the mismanagement of the relations.
The nuclear issue is the core of the American political discourse towards Iran. On Iran, first George W. Bush and both Obama and Romney during the Presidential election campaign stated that it is “unacceptable” for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted March 8th-11th, 2006, revealed that 56% of Americans supported the U.S. taking military action against Iran “if there is evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons.” The same poll reported 62% supporting Israel taking such action.
Last year, the U.S. carried out a preventive military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities and ballistic missile bases. As the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program continues without resolution, the U.S. and E.U. have implemented new rounds of increasingly expansive and rigorous sanctions. The U.S. has applied a full mix of sanctions on Iranian banks; Iranian companies involved in the nuclear, petrochemical, and oil industries; and non-Iranian companies that have invested or have been involved with Iran’s petrochemical industries, arms industries, transport, and precious metal trafficking. The E.U. has joined the U.S. by sharply increasing its role in sanctioning Iran by imposing an embargo on Iranian petrochemical imports and banning European investment in Iran’s petrochemical industry, cutting Iran out of the international banking system, and banning insurance agreements and loans.
It is not clear that these pressures and sanctions can succeed in altering Iranian nuclear ambitions or bringing stability to U.S. and Iranian competition over nuclear weapons and security in the region. It is clear, however, that the push toward enhancing sanctions and growing international isolation is having a real impact on the Iranian economy.
Iran’s nuclear program, as well as its association with Hizbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the harsh pronouncements of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against Israel and the Jews made Tehran a convenient target.
How can the situation get better?
First of all, it is necessary to accept the fact that (Western) countries need Iran, if only for their presence in the region (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria etc). It is necessary to engage with Iran; trade with it, negotiate, reinforce the diplomatic representation and means, know its history and culture. Iran is a great country, and from this start, one can start to deal with what is not so great.
Foreign investment and trade are to be used to integrate the Arab, American and European economies, indirectly also incorporating Jewish economic interests. Iran must recover its traditional economic role in the region and relations with the West and Israel. The sanctions imposed are not only exaggerated but useless. The threat posed by Iran should be engaged diplomatically.
Nations have no permanent enemies or friends but only permanent interests. Iran needs to change its stance on a radical eastward orientation and maintenance of its approach towards the U.S. of détente (state of no war-no peace as primary and institutionalized foreign policy approach). Fortunately, over time, Iran’s foreign policy has become more pragmatic and focused upon Iran’s national interests, as it begin emphasizing participation in international agencies, economic liberalization, post-war reconstruction, and selective global integration. However, the fundamentalist elements continue to push for a more Islamic approach.
Finally, the U.S. has a hundred times more destructive power than Iran could ever muster, and Israel possess the fourth largest army in the World, with over 200 nuclear bombs, and can destroy any regional enemy force in no time. The U.S. should remove the concept of regime change from its policy towards Iran, and at its turn, Iran should offer an acceptable compromise for its nuclear programmes, recognizing Iran’s right to civilian use of nuclear technology but verifiably preventing it from diverting this technology towards any military uses.
To learn more on Iran: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/iran-pulse